“If you make it open and accessible to everyone, no one has a disability.” That’s the basic philosophy of Independent Living. For the most part, accessibility in Carbonear is not too bad, but there is always some room for improvement.
A planned community guide aims to provide access for people with disabilities to buildings and shops in the Carbonear area.
Adam Baker of Carbonear, who works with the Independent Living Resource Centre in St. John’s, is one of several interns who have been sent out to communities across the province to produce similar guides.
“It’s a listing of businesses and services within the communities, but with detailed information about their accessibility, about whether the building itself is accessible, right down to if the businesses and services offer alternate formats for printed materials, like Braille and audio recordings,” said Baker.
The guide will also include a summary of the services offered and contact information for the businesses.
Six items on accessibility checklist
Baker said there are six items on the accessibility checklist: blue parking spots with signs; ramps, if needed, indoors and outdoors; elevators (if the building is more than one storey); automatic doors; accessible washrooms with hand rails; and alternatives to printed materials.
“ These are the kinds of things we look for,” said Baker, adding that little details can mean a lot in improving accessibility; blue parking spots for people with disabilities are good, he said, but they should be accompanied by signs. “ We feel that a sign’s important, because in the middle of winter, the pavement’s so dirty you’re not going to see if the space is blue or not.”
Baker said the point of the guide is not to point fingers at businesses that are or aren’t accessible. “ We just want someone who might use a wheelchair, we want them to be able to take this guide and know, looking at the guide, whether they can get in to this business or service,” he said.
Baker said the Independent Living Resource Centre’s focus is independence. He’s been working on the project at Carbonear’s Human Resources, Labour and Employment office in Carbonear, which recently acquired what he calls “adaptive technology” to help people with disabilities use their services, including software that magnifies computer screens and audio software for people with vision problems, as well as hardware like a keyboard with oversized keys, a large trackball mouse for people with limited dexterity (it can also be placed on the floor and manipulated with a foot), and a motorized computer desk with a switch that raises or lowers the keyboard tray.
In contacting the businesses for informa- tion, Baker has found that the guide may have the indirect result of spurring local businesses to improve access.
“Some of them are already in the process of (improving access), and some people are looking at it more closely, now that I’ve brought it to their attention.”
Baker said he hopes the guide will be finished by the time he’s done his internship, in early February, 2010. After that, updates to the guide might be done if the program is renewed; it’s up for funding renewal at the end of March.
“If I’m back on, I’ll keep it up to date. If not, there’ll either be another intern or it could be kept up to date on a volunteer basis,” he said. “If it was in need of updating, it wouldn’t take me long to go through it again, having made it the first time. I’d volunteer my time to keep it up to date.”
Baker said, for the most part, accessibility in Carbonear is not too bad, but there is some room for improvement.
“For physical accessibility, most of the newer buildings are doing pretty well for it,” he said. “Most buildings nowadays, if a ramp is needed, it’s put on while the building’s being constructed. Some of the older business, they’re a little bit less accessible. Even if the door is half a foot up off the ground, it’s not really accessible, because somebody with a wheelchair would have difficulty trying to get up over that.”
An example of a building that’s doing well is the TC Square shopping centre, with automat- ic doors on either side of the entrances, although ones in the middle would be nice as well, he said.
“Everything else inside is open. You don’t have to worry about automatic doors inside the mall, because the entrances to the stores are always wide open while the mall’s open,” he said.
Baker said he hopes the guide is of use to people with disabilities both in terms of the information it provides as well as encouraging business owners to make their operations more accessible. “Accessibility means that it’s open to everyone,” he said. “ That’s really a big goal of independent living in general.
The IL philosophy is that people have the freedom to make their own choices and decisions, and the ability to do so.”
Baker couldn’t say how many people with disabilities live in the Carbonear area, saying that it’s problematic to lump people with different conditions into one group. More to the point, the goal of products like the guide and services like the Independent Living Resource Centre or the adaptive technology at the Human Resources, Labour and Employment office is to render disabilities irrelevant.
“If you make it open and accessible to everyone, no one has a disability,” he said.
“Most buildings nowadays, if a ramp is needed, it’s put on while the building’s being constructed. Some of the older businesses, they’re a little bit less accessible. Even if the door is half a foot up off the ground, it’s not really accessible, because somebody with a wheelchair would have difficulty trying to get up over that.” — Independent Living Resource Centre intern Adam Baker